The Death Penalty
For the first one hundred and fifty years in the history of the United States of America the federal government played a minor role in the setting up of policies toward the death penalty. Executions were common until the late 1950’s. Michigan was the first state to abolish capital punishment in the late 1840’s and subsequently 13 states took the initiative and called for the abolition of capital punishment. The United Nations makes an impassioned plea to all countries to work towards abolishing capital punishment. However, even in countries where this has happened, many persons are still calling for its restoration. Supporters of the death penalty usually base their arguments on the principle of retribution: whoever takes another person’s life should lose his own. This principle is held dare by those who also believe that only death is a just punishment for certain brutal crimes move many people to support capital punishment. In ‘The Death Penalty: Vol. 1 by Jacques Derrida, translated by Peggy Kamuf, he asks “Whence came this bizarre, bizarre idea, this ancient, archaic idea, this so very rooted, perhaps indestructible idea, of a possible equivalence between injury and pain” (Derrida 2014).This kind of punishment is not only cruel, inhuman and degrading but it brutalizes society. Proponents of the death penalty must be aware that it does not deter criminals, it does not dissuade the offender from committing the offence again neither does it reform the wrongdoer.
Statistics do not prove that the death penalty deters murderers. Many deterrence studies have been collected by The Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. A few of these studies have been critiqued and most have revealed that there is no definitive or concrete evidence that points to the death penalty as a deterrent factor . In April 2012 the National Research Council of the National Academics after more than three decades of research has concluded that studies claiming that there is in fact a deterrent effect on murder rates form the death penalty are deeply flawed. The report concluded that research data on the effects of capital punishment on homicide does not reveal whether capital punishment decreases, increases, or has on effect whatsoever on homicide rates. Chairman of the panel, Criminologist Daniel Nagin says that this conclusion will not be accepted by some persons but nobody is well served by unfounded claims about the death penalty.
The death penalty should be abolished because it is too arbitrary. It violates the Eight Amendment that speaks against cruel and unjust treatment. The death penalty is too final. What if an innocent man was put to death? What just cause could be gained when on his death he is exonerated from a crime he did not commit? Since 1989 to 2003, at least 340 individuals were exonerated. The execution of an innocent person cannot be justified. 142 persons have been released from death row since the reinstitution of the death penalty. In 1993 21 additional cases of mistaken convictions were discovered. On an average there was a 2.5 percentage release of cases of innocent persons per year from 1973 to 1993. The number of persons on death row will increase as government widens the death penalty to new crimes and more states begin to execute more people.
The more people on death row the more there will be the likelihood of mistakes. The death penalty has taken on a political edge where legislators, prosecutors and even judges have been promoting the death penalty. This results in the expansion of the crimes that are incorporated under the death penalty umbrella and the shortening of the appeal process. Some prosecutors seek the death penalty even when they do not have substantive evidence and they also may be reluctant to change their verdict even after previous evidence is proved to be contradictory. The American Bar Association has relentlessly conducted studies about the administration of the death penalty. They have identified a number of critical flaws in the practices that are being followed. These flaws have become more severe and are not being addressed. The American Bar Association need to address the cessation of executions until greater fairness and due process are exercised.
Empirical studies that explore the issue have recently emerged. Donohue and Wolfers (2005) have examined two recent studies and find them to be full of flaws. The works were biased towards showing no deterrence. Land, Teske Jr. and Zheng (2009) and Zimmerman (2009) both conducted studies on the Short-Term Effects of Executions on Homicides: Deterrence, Displacement or Both? And Statistical Variability and The Deterrent Effect of the Death Penalty. They found that in fact the homicide rates decreased right after executions. In reviewing data from the 50 U.S. States these researchers found that between the years 1970 to the late 1990’s lives have been saved through a reduction in homicide rates after executions. These findings were not lost however on the critics who claim “that these findings are not robust enough to model even small changes in specifications that yield dramatically different results” (Donohue & Wolfers 2005).
In countries where the death penalty has been abolished it is shown that there is no increase in the number of murderers. Neither has there been an increase in in countries that have retained the death penalty. On the one hand, it is argued that the death rate would be even higher if the death penalty did not exist. Yes, we are against the death penalty and we agree that society must be protected, for example, against thieves, rapist, arsonists, or reckless drivers but revenge is not the way to go about punishing those who have committed the crime. There are other ways of dealing with offenders and protecting our people. We believe in reform.
Study have found death penalty to be more expensive than a sentence to life in prison without parole. In 2011 a study conducted in the state of California found that more than 4 billion dollars was spent on capital punishment since 1978 when it was reinstated. It is said that death penalty cases are 20 times more expensive than trials that are held for just seeking life imprisonment. Presently California spends over 184 million dollars on the death penalty each year and this cost is estimated to increase to 1 billion within the next 5 years. If the death penalty should be replaced with a sentence of life without parole there would be an enormous amount of money saved. These funds could be used to improve infrastructure and implement programs for citizens. Education, public safety programs, health services, and crime prevention measures would all benefit from increased funding. ACLU of Northern California report “The Hidden Death Tax” (2008) made some revealing facts about the actual expenses. Taxpayers in California pay up to 117 million each year just trying to get execution for people on death row. Death penalty trials stand at an alarmingly 10.9 million dollars. This report validates that the death penalty in that state is unnecessary, arbitrary and a waste of valuable and extremely important resources.
The death penalty is final and we run the risk of committing an innocent man to death. Surely there are other penalties that are not so far reaching. It is argued that punishment can only succeed in making a man bitter and resentful or at best, indifferent. In 1993 the Death Penalty Information Center requested a report on the problem of innocent people of death row. Don Edwards, the then chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights prepared a report. The report revealed that 48 persons had been released because of reports that proved their innocence. Over the ensuing years this revelation has prompted the committee to issue another report. This report looks at the possibility of making the opportunity available to persons to provide new evidence of one’s innocence. Since then the federal funding for this venture has been withdrawn and some courts still held that it is possible for execution orders are possible even if there is doubt about the defendant’s guilt.
Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.(1994) said “Perhaps the bleakest of all is that the death penalty is imposed not only in a freakish and discriminatory manner, but also in some cases upon defendants who are actually innocent.” Because of errors in the criminal justice system there is the danger that innocent people will be put to death. Information from the Death Penalty Information Center 1997, revealed that since 1973 a total of 69 persons have been released from death row because new evidence of their innocence was revealed. Twenty one have been released since 1993, among them seven from the state of Illinois. Many of these cases were revealed as a result of new scientific techniques, investigations by interested persons and the dedicated work of attorneys who too special interests in some of these cases. Ronaldo Cruz, a typical example of a man who was released after spending ten years on death row in Illinois. Although another man had confessed to the murder shortly after Cruz was convicted he still spent ten years in incarceration.
The debate heats up about whether prisoners should be left to rot in jail or should they be rehabilitated. Our jails are extremely ineffective when it comes to implementing programs that will develop and teach prisoners worthwhile skills. The UK spends more per capita on public order than the US or any EU countries and still their jails are ineffective. There is worldwide alarm over how prisoners are treated in jails. It is thought that inmates should be given more responsibility and freedom within prison walls. The prison system is offering prisoners a chance to change. A man who has committed a murder owes a debt to society. He must repay that debt in such a way, that at the same time he is being reformed to take a useful place in society. Life without parole is seen as a sensible alternative to the death penalty. A sentence to life without parole allows for mistakes to be corrected and it is also a cheaper alternative to executing a prisoner.
The focus or main aim of rehabilitation is to change individual offenders so they will never commit the crime again. There have been numerous studies done on how to understand and identify the behaviors of criminals. Martinson’s report was interpreted as showing that “nothing works” in rehabilitation. Coupled with further reports by Lipton, Martinson and wilks (1975), Martinson produced the results of the research that evaluates 231 treatment programs that were conducted between 1945 and 1967. The negative reviews in the 1970’s were challenged by Palmer (1975; 1983). They found that there were too many broad generalizations of the conclusions and this led to many of the positives of the program being overlooked. However, reviews done after Matinson’s essay in fact revealed that there was research to substantiate the effectiveness of the rehabilitation program. James Gilligan, in his article “Punishment Fails: Rehabilitation Works” looks at the treatment of prisoners in lockups and attribute some of the poor treatment to the prisoners lack of remorse and his subsequent return to a life of crime after prison. He says more than ninety percent of prisoners return to society after a few years that is the reason we must be careful how we treat our prisoners.
The death penalty will not compensate for the life of the victim nor will it help to heal or sooth the pain that the families face. The funds that are used for the execution of the person can be used to help the family of the murdered victim to put their lives together. Alternatives to the death penalty are supported by the loved ones of murdered victims. The traumatic experiences that the family faces will live with them for a life time. If the prisoner is given a sentence of life without parole the family will at least be able to live through that punishment without the constant reminder of a more inhumane treatment. The millions that the government spends on the death penalty each year can be put to more worthy cause. Those who advocate the death penalty spends time focusing on the punishment of the victim rather than on the family who need help to overcome their trials. Lest we forget, families are victims too. “Murder Victims’ families for Human Rights”, in their report titled “Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt Families Left Behind.” The report posits that families are victims too. Billie Jean Mayberry whose brother was executed in 2000 lamented the fact that the government nor persons in the prison system are not aware of the magnitude of suffering that his family go through. This whole experience has created more victims. “it changed all our lives.” The United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights has since then launched a study on the impact that executions have on families.
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Innocent. Retrieved from http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/node/523
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